Monday, November 8, 2021

Sega Genesis Review: Earthworm Jim (1994)


While Sonic the Hedgehog is considered the iconic Sega Genesis platformer to this day, the bizarre and visually striking Earthworm Jim is remembered fondly by many. 

Shiny Entertainment bought the rights to the design of the quirky character Jim himself from Doug TenNapel in 1994, and this formed the basis for a platformer that took the genre to a new level.


While Mega Man means business, Sonic Hedgehog has a serious attitude, and Mario... is a plumber, Earthworm Jim is a flat-out weirdo, and his characteristic oddball quirks make him an endearing protagonist for the game.

From the humorous animated segment during the SEGA logo screen onwards (Jim's pants accidentally drop), this is a game filled with interesting, immersive animation. Few games are animated this well: each level looks like a cartoon, enemies bursting into colorful clouds when they're killed, Jim's arms wildly flailing when he jumps. Additionally, the level of background detail brings each level to life. The game looks phenomenal, and there are few games from this era that have the charm dialed up this high.

Earthworm Jim is an amazing-looking game.

In addition to the amazing visuals, Earthworm Jim sounds fantastic. The first level, New Junk City, is accompanied by a funky groove that the Sega Genesis's sound chip absolutely nails. The level What the Heck? begins with a version of Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain while a demon in the background dances. Most of the music in the game is of the funky or dance-like variety (often both), and the tunes are well-composed and catchy. As far as sound effects, Jim's "head whip" has a satisfying "smack" to it, though I do think his blaster sounds a bit anemic. Most of the enemies' vocalizations and sound effects are well done and the voice of Jim himself is appropriately humorous, though after hearing him shout "Damn!" for the 100th time, you'll probably tire of it.

As far as how Earthworm Jim plays, you'll be controlling Jim through about a half dozen levels as you shoot and "head whip" (he literally grabs his own earthworm head and whips it at enemies) your way to each boss, as well as using your head as a grappling hook and helicopter propeller. Controlling Jim and attacking things accurately proves a bit challenging, at least at first. It's not always trivial to land a whip on an enemy and shooting your blaster takes some getting used to. Honestly, some of the most frustrating enemies you'll face are the crows in the very first level. Once you get acclimated with the combat, however, the gameplay becomes very fun, though the challenge is still much higher than your average Mario or Sonic game.

Launching the cow in "New Junk City" is essential

Earthworm Jim is far from your typical platformer. In the very first level, you launch a cow into the sky using a refrigerator (the reason for this eventually becomes clear), you fight an obese man that pukes fish, and you are put in many situations that are strange or just plain hilarious. My favorite moment is probably when you face the boss of Down The Tubes/Tube Race, which happens to be a goldfish in a glass bowl. Jim simply knocks the bowl to the floor in a single swoop, leaving the fish flopping around in agony.

The personality of the game is built right into its level design. While bouncing off giant heaps of tires in New Junk City gets old quickly, What the Heck? is a disorienting, almost labyrinthian exploration of hell, Snot a Problem is a level solely made up of rounds in which you fight a snot monster while bungee jumping through a chasm, and For Pete's Sake has you escorting a happy-go-lucky dog through an onslaught of obstacles. Between several of the levels, you are forced to race on your rocket against Psycrow (and subsequently fight him if you lose), which is kind of a fun excursion, I guess? Most of the detours the game takes from straightforward platforming are a lot of fun.

"For Pete's Sake" is fun and challenging: you need to safely launch Pete across the level

For all of the things Earthworm Jim does right, it's not without flaws. The biggest flaw is simply the frustration factor that pervades many facets of the game; like previously stated, it takes awhile to get used to the combat mechanics, but even after you do, there's plenty of other elements that prove frustrating. Some of the level design is confusing, and when it's not confusing, it's often redundant. Facing the same enemy over and over again on a flat plane is not interesting. There are many parts of the game where taking damage is almost unavoidable, which is not a gameplay pattern I enjoy. There's a timed race after "Down The Tubes" which is really easy to mess up (more on this below). Perhaps the most frustrating part of the game is the final level, in which you continually need to precariously navigate spiked passages while being attacked; these sections will absolutely decimate you if you don't time your jumps perfectly.

It's important to mention that your enjoyment of the game will significantly vary depending on which system you play it on. The SNES port of the game is particularly problematic; while the game seems to play okay initially, the aspect ratio of the screen is stretched and zoomed-in. The control also seems a bit less precise, for whatever reason. This problem rears its head in a bad way during "Tube Race", in which you need to navigate an underwater craft through maze-like passages within a certain amount of time. It's incredibly difficult and frustrating to get past this section on the SNES, but it's not too bad on the Genesis. 

The Sega CD's version is actually Earthworm Jim: Special Edition. The music has been re-done and the quality of sound in general is higher given the CD format. Additionally, it provides a built-in password system, new and extended levels, and a new power-up. While I haven't played this one, I need to get my hands on it, as it seems like it very well could be the best version of the game. 


Despite the aforementioned frustrations, the variety, charm, and stunning visuals of Earthworm Jim make it an unforgettable and incredibly enjoyable game. If you haven't played this game, do yourself a favor and give the Genesis or Sega CD version a shot.

Retrodrunk Rating: (8/10 Long Island Ice Teas)

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